History abounds with tales of hugely tall men and women, but it’s only in the past couple of hundred years that we’ve had medical explanations for the phenomenon. Pituitary gigantism, Marfan syndrome, eunuchoid tallness, Sotos syndrome, and acromegaly are all conditions that can cause those afflicted to grow beyond the human norm.
Pituitary gigantism is by far the most common cause of extreme height. It usually occurs due to over-secretion of growth hormone from cells in the pituitary gland or as a result of a tumor on this same gland at the base of the brain. Many of the world’s largest individuals – from the tallest person ever, Robert Wadlow, to the world’s current tallest living man, Sultan Kösen – have suffered from conditions related to their pituitary glands.
Yet the stories of the individuals affected by gigantism are as interesting as the causes behind their conditions. Read on for the 10 tallest recorded people in history.
10. Brahim Takioullah – 8 ft 1 in (2 m 46 cm)
Brahim Takioullah is the joint second-tallest living person in the world, alongside Iranian man Morteza Mehrzad. Takioullah also holds the Guinness World Record as the owner of the “world’s largest feet on a living person” (and the second largest in history) at over 15 inches in length. Takioullah was born in Morocco in 1982, and his size is the result of a tumor that affects his pituitary gland.
The tumor has increased the levels of human growth hormone in Takioullah’s system, and the effects are there for all to see. The Moroccan giant’s condition was diagnosed when he was 18, after a school doctor concerned about his “unusual” size suggested that he should get a blood test.
As you can imagine, Takioullah’s stature causes significant problems in his day-to-day life. He can’t stand up straight in the small flat he shares with his mother, and he has difficulty using a car or taxi. He also needs to wear special shoes designed by his orthopaedic podiatrist to support his weight.
9. Don Koehler – 8 ft 2 in (2 m 49 cm)
Denton, Montana-born giant Don Koehler reached an incredible height of 8 ft 2 in. His growth was normal until the age of 10, when he suddenly shot up at an alarming rate. He was the tallest man in the world from 1969 until his death in 1981.
The inconveniences to Koehler’s everyday life included him having to put two double beds together when he stayed in hotel rooms; a difficulty finding somewhere to live that had a ceiling high enough (and no hanging light fixtures); and bumping his head when he had a cold. Koehler’s twin sister was only 5 ft 9 in tall, making the 29-inch difference between the twins a Guinness World Record.
Towards the end of his life, Koehler suffered from kyphosis, which reduced his stature through curvature of the spine. He died in Chicago at the age of 55 from a reported heart condition. By then his height had shrunk to 7 ft 10 in.
8. Vikas Uppal – 8 ft 3 in (2 m 51 cm) (Contested)
Not a lot is known about Indian giant Vikas Uppal’s short life, and his tallest-man claim is a controversial one. Born in the Rohtak district of Haryana in 1986, he was never officially measured by the Guinness World Records.
According to Indian newspaper The Tribune, Uppal was 8ft 3in and still growing when he was measured in his late teens. Indian news and entertainment website Rediff.com also claim to have measured Uppal, in 2005, and reported that he was 8ft 10in – which would make him the second tallest person in human history. Other reports claim that he was 8ft 9in, but his generally accepted height is 8ft 3in.
Notwithstanding such debate, tragically, Uppal died on the operating table on June 30, 2007, when doctors tried unsuccessfully to remove a tumor from his brain.
7. Bernard Coyne – 8 ft 2 in (2 m 49 cm)
Bernard A. Coyne was born in Anthon, Iowa on July 27, 1897. He suffered from eunuchoidal infantile gigantism, which is an extremely rare condition commonly referred to as daddy-longlegs syndrome.
Coyne’s exact height at the time of his death is still unconfirmed. According to his WWI registration card, he was already 8-ft tall in 1918, at which time he was just 21 years old. When he died in 1921, aged 23, Coyne measured 8 ft 2 in, although according to some sources, he could have been as tall as 8 ft 4 in.
Regardless, Coyne is one of only a handful of people in recorded medical history taller than 8 feet. His life was, however, tragically cut short in his early twenties. Coyne’s official cause of death was hardening of the liver and glandular fever. He was buried in his hometown in a custom-built coffin.
6. Sultan Kösen – 8 ft 3 in (2 m 51 cm)
At 8 ft 3 in, Turkish part-time farm laborer Sultan Kösen is the tallest living man in the world. Like many of the other people on this list, Kösen’s condition is caused by a tumor affecting his pituitary gland that has been linked to acromegaly. And as with Koehler, Kösen’s growth rate was normal until the age of 10, at which point he quickly shot up to over six feet.
The colossal Turk was unable to complete his education due to his staggering height and need to walk with crutches. An attempt to remove Kösen’s tumor in 2008 was thought to have been successful, but in the end it failed to arrest his accelerated growth rate.
In 2010, because the tumor was buried so deep in Kösen’s brain, doctors at the University of Virginia used a “gamma knife” technique, focusing beams of radiation to remove the growth. Due to Kösen’s size, special equipment had to be flown in from Sweden. In 2012, it was confirmed that the supersized celebrity had finally stopped growing.
5. Edouard Beaupré – 8 ft 3 in (2 m 51 cm)
Born in Saskatchewan, Canada in 1881, Edouard Beaupré also reached the incredible height of 8 ft 3 in. As a child, Beaupré had dreams of being a cowboy, but he may have changed his mind when he turned 17 and discovered that he could lift an 800-pound horse. When he was 21, Beaupré joined Barnum and Bailey’s Circus as a strongman and circus freak.
The French Canadian giant’s feats included lifting heavy horses and wrestling one of the world’s strongest men, Louis Cyr. During the wrestling match, he hardly dared to lay a finger on his opponent, leading to Cyr’s victory. Sometimes Beaupré suffered for his art, and he once broke his leg lifting a 900-pound weight.
Towards the end of his life, Beaupré suffered from tuberculosis and felt weak and dizzy after his feats of strength. At around 1:00 am on July 3, 1904, feeling tired, he drank a cup of tea and began coughing up blood. He was rushed to hospital but died the same night.
Doctors who examined Beaupré post mortem found that he was suffering from a pituitary gland tumor. They also discovered that he hadn’t stopped growing until his premature death at the age of 23.
4. Väinö Myllyrinne – 8 ft 3 in (2 m 51 cm)
Born in 1909 in Helsinki, Finland, Väinö Myllyrinne was 7 ft 3.4 in tall by the time he was 21. What’s more, he hit a second growth spurt in his late thirties, and by the time of his death in 1963, he was a towering 8 ft 3 in – just like Kösen and Beaupré.
Myllyrinne served with the Finnish Defence Forces and is considered the tallest soldier who ever lived. He was also voted the twelfth greatest Finn by local TV show Suuret Suomalaiset, mostly due to a sarcastic tongue-in-cheek Internet campaign.
The Finnish colossus suffered from acromegaly, which frequently leads to gigantism and abnormal growth. Myllyrinne was confirmed as the tallest living man in the world from 1940 until his death at the age of 54. His hands were also an incredible 15.7 inches wide, which is the largest recorded hand span in history.
3. John F. Carroll – 8 ft 7.5 in (2 m 63 cm)
Born in 1932 in Buffalo, New York, John Carroll was referred to as the “Buffalo Giant” in medical journals. When he was 16, Carroll’s incredible growth spurt kicked in, and it didn’t stop until his eventual death in 1969. At one point, he reportedly grew seven inches in a matter of months!
Carroll was afflicted with acromegalic gigantism and suffered a lot during his short life, especially when it came to his spine: he had a bad case of two-dimensional spinal curvature, also known as kyphoscoliosis. In fact, Carroll’s spinal curvature was so severe that it even made measuring him accurately extremely difficult.
In 1968, just before his death, Carroll measured in at 7 ft 8.75 in. However, by this stage, his spinal curvature was so extreme that it’s thought his corrected height could have been just below 9 feet.
2. John Rogan – 8 ft 9 in (2 m 67 cm)
At 8 ft 9 in, John William “Bud” Rogan is the second tallest human being in recorded history – and the tallest of African descent. Born in Tennessee in 1868, Rogan suffered a sudden growth spurt at the age of 13 and gained height rapidly.
Rogan’s extreme size led to him suffering from severe ankylosis, a condition that leaves the joints stiff due to inflammation. This made it extremely difficult for him to put his weight on his feet. Initially, he could walk around with the aid of crutches, but by 1882 Rogan couldn’t stand or walk at all. Always the center of attention, he was often pulled around in a goat cart that he designed himself.
Rogan found it hard to work due to his condition but made a living selling pictures and postcards of himself at the local train station. He died in 1905 from complications due to his disease and was buried under a layer of concrete to stop curious scientists from digging up his body. The African-American giant was not measured officially until his death, and although he was just less than nine feet tall, he weighed in at only 175 pounds.
1. Robert Wadlow – 8 ft 11 in (2 m 72 cm)
Topping our list is Robert Wadlow, “The Giant of Illinois.” Having reached a height of 8 ft 11 in, Wadlow is the tallest confirmed person to have ever lived. Born in Alton, Illinois in 1918, he suffered from hypertrophy of the pituitary gland, causing him to produce massive amounts of human growth hormone.
This condition led to Wadlow’s height constantly increasing throughout his life. By the time he was eight, he was already 6 ft 2 in and weighed 169 lbs (77 kg). The Illinois resident was so large that a special desk had to be built for him in school. Doctors at the time had no treatment for this kind of hormonal imbalance.
Wadlow suffered from a number of ailments due to his unusual condition. He had trouble moving around his college campus because of his brittle bones and needed to wear leg braces towards the end of his life. He also had minimal sensation in his feet.
In the end, during a professional appearance Wadlow made in Manistee, Michigan, a faulty leg brace gave him a blister that went on to become infected. Emergency surgery and blood transfusions failed to save him, and he passed away in his sleep on July 15, 1940. He was only 22 years old. Over 30,000 people attended Wadlow’s funeral and twelve pallbearers were needed to carry his massive body.